I’ve been very uncertain about writing this. Last night, I gave this article on Gods&Radicals a read after I saw it on my feed and, to be honest, it’s really bottomed me out. I kept reading the article, over and over, to make sure that I was reading exactly what I was reading. And something in me truly embittered, because I was reading things that weren’t true – and some things that were true were twisted in a way that made it something radical to war against. This was a struggle for me to write, and I feel that it doesn’t back the titanium-hardness that my writing usually does, so I apologize that it’s terribly written.
Rhyd Wildermuth has notified publicly that he was the writer of this piece, and of course the article does represent Gods&Radicals as a whole. I think that he will be writing a follow-up piece on this, so I look forward to that when it comes out.
I am exhausted of this conversation. I am tired of it. I am bitter. And it’s because of this deep-seated exhaustion, tiredness, embitterment that I’m writing. This is, in many ways, an attack not only on the gods, but also an attack of the human beings who engage with them in a different way than those at Gods&Radicals do – an attack of using very valid concerns and good, necessary points to craft a battlefield: us versus them, right versus wrong.
But, of course, that’s not discriminatory, dishonest, or fascist. Not at all.
I do believe that what is being talked about is important to talk about. I do think it’s important to take a look at negative presences in any tradition, structure, or movement. I think it’s important to honestly take a look at the impact of capitalism and power structures in our lives and in our religions. I also think it’s important that, when we speak of these traditions, structures, and movements, we provide a fair and unbiased look as we possibly can. And, yes, this is difficult – and all the more reason to do it, because acts of justice and setting-right are founded upon the clarity of the truth.
Truth is the last thing I see in this article.
Devotional Polytheism: Similar to the problems in Reconstructionism, but with an extra dimension. Because Devotional Polytheism places final authority in ‘the gods’ and emphasises hierarchical relationships (between human and god, priest and devotee), ethical questions cannot be challenged by concerned people because ‘the gods will it.’
For a blog titled Gods&Radicals, written for by bloggers who claim to have their work of a polytheist-led project blessed with the gods and spirits, I find it fascinating that ‘the gods’ is put in quotation marks. (Then again, I am not surprised).
Devotional polytheism is gods-centric. It is fully receptive to the will of the gods and places us in various positions of engagement with the gods and Their interests. This position of engagement is voluntary, and everyone has a different kind of engagement. Neither is lesser nor greater.
However, I cannot get over that last part:
… ethical questions cannot be challenged by concerned people because ‘the gods will it.’
I have never heard of anything more ridiculous or dishonest in my life. Never have I been part of a conversation (whether actively contributing to it or simply reading/listening) where this has happened: where no one has asked questions, or where someone has shut down conversation with “There’s no if, ands, our buts about it because God X told me to do this and you’re being impious in questioning Their will.” If anything, we actively fight that sort of thinking. Being someone who meaningfully engages with their faith is being someone who demands, of themselves and others, the truth – constantly, not just for our benefit or our comfort level.
This article suggests that people who engage with the gods (in ways they don’t approve, of course) simply accept any movement of discernment without checking. Double checking. Triple checking. Pleading. Doubting. Questioning. Fighting again. As if devotional polytheists everywhere were running around telling each other not to question anything and not to have any conversations about, say, the role of animal sacrifice in ceremony or the ontology of the gods. Accepting divine will immediately is not a prerogative of mine, neither a goal. Using divine will as an excuse (and/or lie) to get other people to do what I want them to do is no prerogative nor goal, either, and I will stop it when I see it. This article suggests that both are done by devotional polytheists as well as other traditions and practices, and that both are movements backed by mindless, fundamentalist, unreasonable people. Putting the gods first is much, much more than simply explaining it away as merely a hierarchical structure, and it’s clear here that the truth is conveniently overseen and presented in a way so simplified and stripped of meaning that it’s actually a lie.
And as John Beckett said perfectly in his piece Guilt By Association: “Yes, fascists and racists may abuse [beliefs and practices that are meaningful and sacred to some of us], but that does not make them dangerous in and of themselves.” This article suggests that anything in the list under “What is the New Right’s influence on paganism” has an unhealthy structure yielding unhealthy results.
I think this is just a very subtle way to further drive in a particular nail that’s been hammered in for a long time: that people who believe in Powers outside of themselves are backwards, primitive, superstitious, crazy, imbalanced, and devoid of critical thinking skills or moral compasses. It also shows a desire or inability to understand the complexities, intricacies, and grappling-struggles of a life of faith when intimately engaged with the Powers, or at least to understand that these things are present in polytheism for many people. It shows a position that the gods don’t matter and shouldn’t matter – that maybe They should be present, but insofar as They can be controlled and manipulated by Us. And it shows a BIG problem with authority, even with the gods present or with people who have decided to give their lives into service for the gods.
(Funny that: a blog whose creator has admitted is led by the Powers, because “the gods will for this project to continue,” is putting this opinion forward. But, of course, this article is the right way to do it, right?)
And it’s not to say that I think devotional polytheism is safe from someone who wants to take advantage of it. But as John Beckett said perfectly in his piece Guilt By Association: “Yes, fascists and racists may abuse [beliefs and practices that are meaningful and sacred to some of us], but that does not make them dangerous in and of themselves.”
This article exists on a platform that claims to support different perspectives for a greater polytheism – yet it calls for the same us v. them, “enemy at the gates” mentality that it cries against. So I’ll close with my own list of “What Else Can We Do?” for consideration.
Ask Uncomfortable Questions. Where is the name of the writer in this article? Where are the sources, the documentation behind the statements in this article? Why is the article written with such obfuscation, making things unclear and superficial especially for readers who might not have any idea of what’s going on? Why is Feri, a mystery tradition, hailed to be “much more immune to the New Right’s influence” when other mystery traditions in that same article are posted in the “New Right Influence of Paganism” list? Did anyone else notice that, from the list, the “reconstructionist,” “devotional polytheism,” and “mystery traditions” descriptions specifically were devoid of positive qualities? And for an article that calls for us to ask questions and challenge the structure, where’s the comments button?
Demand clear stances from leaders. I will never debate the reality that many people have taken advantage of what is supposed to be a position of clean, honest, c/Community oriented service such as priesthood, leader etc. I will never, ever tell someone to stop questioning or to hold back an inquiry simply for one’s position. But positions in leadership and service do not, as a standard, lead to all manners of abuses. We should always be on the look-out for abusers and people who have ulterior motives, using the gods or the will of the gods for their own personal advancement (sound familiar?). This article suggests that some of us do not watch out for ‘false prophets’ and simply swallow anything that has the sentences ‘This is the will of the gods’ attached without thinking twice. And, granted, if we are to restore traditions, it’s always good to have wise-people about: people who are trained, people who have an incredible amount of knowledge and wisdom to help guide others to the gods, people who can be leaders in a community. People in our communities – and communities everywhere – need people to help – or do people simply go mountain-climbing on a whim without a teacher? Who does a community member turn to when they’re having a really difficult time in their practice, or a life-changing situation that they don’t know how to process? Demanding clear stances from leaders shouldn’t be an activity backed solely on the premise that community leaders are only in this for the money and the power.
Build strong connections across traditions. I find this one difficult to reconcile logically with the article, considering there was an entire list of traditions who were associated with fascism or fascist tendencies – how could you ask that of others when, in the article, it is wickedly present? How can you ask to build strong connections across traditions when an article has been published that has listed several traditions as ‘guilty by association’, as Beckett has stated, and provides a ‘guide’ to fighting The New Right? (Or should we only build strong connections with certain traditions?)
Challenge divine proclamations: Oh, I have a challenge. The gods at Gods&Radicals sing their tune a little too loudly, I think. My personal opinion? They’re doing the same thing that they cry against: they’re using the gods for their benefit, for their message. And the message I hear is this, whether it was an intended message or not:
“You (and ‘the gods’) can have as much authority as I am comfortable with,” says this article, “and if you don’t agree with me, you clearly have been influenced by fascism and you’re a threat that needs to be fought against. We stand for everything right in a world gone wrong. And in a world where it’s us v. them, here’s what we can do to get started on being on the right side of the fight. We’re an authority on this, after all; we know what we’re talking about. We’re Gods&Radicals.”
Who sounds like The New Right now?